There may be instances you are asked to provide a certified check instead of a personal check. But what does this mean, and how do you get one?
Certified checks are personal checks certified by your bank, as its name implies. Essentially, the bank confirms that you have the funds for the check and that the signature is legitimate. Certified checks give the recipient peace of mind that the check won't bounce.
Take a closer look at when you use certified checks, how to get them, and how this type of check compares to other similar options.
Beginner's Guide To Certified Checks
Checks are less commonly used than before, but they're still needed occasionally. Depending on the situation, you may be asked to write a certified check instead of a personal check. Take a closer look at what this means and how to get a certified check.
What Is A Certified Check?
A certified check is a type of personal check that the bank confirms is legitimate. The bank will typically verify the signature, but the main purpose of certification is to confirm that the funds are available in the check writer's account. Those funds are then earmarked for the check. Typically, a bank will only release those earmarked funds for the check, not for any other purchase, check, or withdrawal.
Using a certified check confirms all of the following:
- The person who wrote the check has authority to do so.
- The check is legitimate and not chemically treated or washed.
- The signature is legitimate,
- The account is in good standing and active.
- The funds are not only available but will be earmarked for the check for a given period.
Where To Get Certified Checks?
You will have to go to your bank to request a certified check. Because of the way certified checks are used, you have to get them from the bank of your account. But keep in mind that not all banks offer certified checks. Some will only offer cashier's checks, an even more secure option that we will get into later.
How To Get A Certified Bank Check?
Getting a certified check is pretty simple. Depending on your bank, you can request it personally, over the phone, or online.
1. Confirm Your Bank Offers Certified Checks
As mentioned, not all banks offer certified checks. The first thing to do is to confirm that your bank offers them. If they don't, talk to the individual requesting the certified check. Ask them if they would be fine with a cashier's check or suggest an alternative, such as money orders.
2. Go To The Bank And Visit A Teller Line
Visit your bank in person and talk to a teller. Let them know that you want a certified check. At this point, the teller should give you additional instructions for requesting a certified check from your specific bank. That being said, you can expect that the following steps will apply, with a few variations depending on your bank.
3. Write The Check And Show Your ID
You will be typically asked to write the check in front of the teller. You are then asked to show your ID to the teller. Make sure you know the exact amount to be written on the check and the recipient's name.
4. Wait For The Teller To Verify Funds
The teller will use your account information on the check and your ID to verify that you have sufficient funds. They may also earmark the funds for the check on their system. They will then mark your check as certified, typically by stamping it.
5. Pay The Appropriate Fee
Before you leave, you will likely have to pay a fee for the certified check. You may also opt to permit the bank to withdraw the fee directly from your account. In most cases, it will cost you about $15 or less. Some banks don't even charge a fee.
6. Ask For A Receipt And Keep It Secure
Make sure to ask the bank teller for a receipt for your certified check. Keep the receipt at least until the check has cleared your account.
How Long Does It Take To Get A Certified Check?
How long it takes to get a certified check will depend on your bank's processes and the number of transactions they attend to. In most cases, however, it should take about 10 minutes or less. Your only waiting time will be as the teller confirms the funds in your account and earmarks them.
What Are The Benefits Of A Certified Check?
Certified checks are ideal when you want the security of checks compared to cash and the payee wants extra assurance that the check will not bounce. Certified checks benefit the recipient, giving them peace of mind that the funds are guaranteed.
When To Use A Certified Check
Certified checks are more commonly requested for large transactions. They may also be requested in situations with a higher risk of fraud. Some of these instances include:
- Security deposits for a rental property
- Auto purchases
- Closing fees on a mortgage
- Buying items over $1,000
- Selling something to a buyer you don't trust
Can A Certified Check Be Fraudulent?
Even though the certification process is designed to ensure legitimacy of a check, it is still possible to have a fraudulent certified check. In this case, the certification is forged, resulting in a bad check.
How To Avoid Fraudulent Certified Checks
The good news is that there are some things you can do to protect yourself from accepting a fraudulent certified check. It is always smart to inspect all checks you receive, especially a certified or cashier's check because of the higher values you may be dealing with. A single red flag on the check may not mean that it is fraudulent, but if you see several issues, you should take extra precautions. The following are some of the red flags to look out for:
- Missing security features, such as security threads, color-changing inks, and watermarks
- Missing the address of the bank or payer
- Misspelling of the bank or payer's name
- Incorrect bank routing number
- The check being written for more than the requested amount
A check that reflects more than the requested amount is actually a warning sign for any type of fraudulent check. It is common for scammers to write a check for more than they owe and request the difference from the seller in cash. When the check bounces, the seller will not receive the check money and lose the additional cash they paid the "buyer." Keep in mind that the "buyer" may also request the difference via wire transfer, personal check, peer-to-peer payment, ACH transfer, or another method.
When in doubt about a potentially fraudulent check, you can ask the issuing bank to verify it. You should look up the phone number of the bank online. You are better off not trusting the phone number written on a check you suspect is fraudulent.
Certified Checks vs. Cashier's Checks
As mentioned, not all banks will offer certified checks. If your bank doesn't offer them, the recipient should be okay to accept a cashier's check, which is even more secure. A cashier's check draws on the bank's funds, so the bank guarantees the check. Upon requesting a cashier's check, you pay the bank in cash or via a withdrawal from your checking account.
Both certified and cashier's checks are official and guaranteed by the bank. Both also typically come with fees.
The main difference between a certified check and a cashier's check is who funds it. With a certified check, the funds come out of your account at a bank. With a cashier's check, the funds come out of the bank's funds.
Another difference is where you can request them. You can only get a certified check from a bank where you have an account because the bank has to verify and earmark the funds. By contrast, some banks will write cashier's checks even for non-customers. Keep in mind, however, that not all banks will offer cashier's checks to non-customers. Additionally, if you get a cashier's check from a bank where you do not have an account, you will likely need to provide the funds in cash.
Certified Checks vs. Money Orders
Another common alternative to certified checks is a money order. To get a money order, you will have to pay the funds upfront. This guarantees sufficient funds. The benefit of money orders is that you have many other options for where you can get them. Some banks offer money orders, but most people can get them at a check-cashing store, grocery store, post office, or convenience store. However, a major downside of money orders is that they usually should not exceed $1,000.
A certified check is a type of personal check the bank confirms to be valid. This check ensures that the funds are available and that the check is legitimate. Certified checks are commonly requested in situations involving large amounts of money.
Shawn Manaher is a former financial advisor, has founded 5 online businesses, and is a coach, speaker, podcast host, and author. He's been featured on Forbes, The Consults Corner on TAE Radio, The Writing Biz, What's Your Story, and more.